Tzolk’in

Personal Ranking: #7

Time to Play (in my experience): 90-120 minutes

Age Level: I don’t think I would try this with people younger than 15 or 16. 

Difficulty Level: 5 (15-25 minutes to teach), over 90 minutes to play

Type of Game: Worker placement (with a twist!). This means that you have a certain number of pawns (workers) that you get to place on a central board. These placements will get you some sort of benefit and/or penalize other players. At certain points in the game, these workers return to you and you get to place them again.

Game Setting: Ancient Mayan Empire

Brief overview of how to play: On your turn you either place your pawns or you remove them (not both). At the end of each round, you turn the the central gear one notch which rotates all the other gears. Unlike other worker placements, you get the reward when you remove your pawn, not when you place it. The longer that you leave your pawn on the gear, the better the reward. After the central gear makes one complete rotation, the game ends.

Here's a picture of those sweet gears!

How many players does it play?: 2-4

Ideal number?: 2 or 3. 4 takes a little too long.

 

Brain powers at work!

Why do I love/recommend this game?:

1) The revolving gears: Those gears are amazing, and to my knowledge, it has not been used in any other game. 

2) So many strategies, so many ways to win: You can go for temple points, or building points, or crystal skulls, or a combination of things. You can take different strategies each time.

3) Various starting resources: I really like how you get to customize your opening position a bit. You decide if you start with a bunch of corn (the currency in this game), or a crystal skull, or a jumpstart on technologies. Each game can give you a slightly different opening.

At the beginning of the game, you get to chose 2 of the 4 tiles and get the benefits. For instance the first tile will give you 6 corn, 1 wood, and 1 stone.

4) The “dummy” pawns for 2 or 3 players: I prefer this game with 2 or 3 players (even though it plays 4), and one of the reasons is because of the way you use the other players’ tokens on the gears as static “blockers”. This makes for a very interesting dimension of the game and you need to time your placement with these blockers on the gears.

5) Simplicity of turns: One of the great things about the “worker placement” genre, is that a turn is generally pretty easy to play. It’s not really different here, you just place or remove your pawns. But the trick is placing your pawns in the most effective manner. In this game you always have to be thinking 3 or 4 turns ahead. But unlike Chess or something where you have to think ahead or you will lose, in this game you just have to think ahead in terms of delayed gratification. The reward that you want may take patiently waiting 5 turns.

Is there anything offensive in this game? Anything at all?: You do advance on the various pagan god temples in order to receive favors from the gods. There are also ways to “anger the gods” in the game. But these are just mechanisms and part of the theme in the ancient Mayan empire.

The three "god" tracks.

Final word: Tzolk’in is one of the most complicated games I own. The first time I played this game, my brain hurt, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to try it again. I wanted to try a different approach. It’s not “fiddly” (not a whole bunch of little rules to remember or maneuver around), it’s just that there is a lot going on. If people want to play a deep, thinky worker placement game, this is probably my highest recommendation.

Price on Amazon.com at the time of this posting: $36.48

 

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